One of the five heart reliquaries (Photo: Rozenn Colleter/Inrap)

A recent radiological discovery has found that even noble hearts can be diseased.

The story begins in Rennes, France, in 1369, when the Dominican order began building a church and convent. The place was active for centuries, until the 18th century and the French Revolution, after which it was handed over to the military. 

In 1991, the church became a historical monument, and in 2011, archaeologists started a year-and-a-half long excavation of the site’s covent, gardens and courtyards. In the 9,500 square yards they examined, the team found evidence of many burials—including five lead coffins and heart-shaped reliquaries.

Those reliquaries had the embalmed hearts of nobles inside them. Recently, radiologists examined the hearts themselves and found evidence in most of them of the same sort of heart diseases that plague people today.

Reliquaries are often associated with saints: some Christians believe that the containers holding the body parts of holy men and women possess spiritual powers. In the Middle Ages, it was also acceptable for noble people to have certain organs extracted and preserved in reliquaries. That’s the case with these hearts: one, for instance, belonged to Lady Louise de Quengo, married in the 17th century to a knight. She was buried wearing religious vestments and holding a cross. 

Bonus find: Secret passage under an Aztec temple

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